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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 28, 2008

Cell phone tower may pose a threat

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Georgette Koenig fears that an abandoned, structurally unsound cell phone tower might fall on top of her home, or someone else’s. American Tower, which now owns and operates the cell tower, told The Enterprise this week that all has been taken care of, but the town isn’t so sure.

“You’re talking about a tower that, if you talk to the majority of the locals, it’s probably between 40 and 50 years old,” said Koenig.

Questions were raised at this month’s town board meeting: Who owns the land on which the tower stands? And who is liable if it falls?

Town Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck said it sits on land that is owned by Verizon, but hasn’t been used in years. The latter question is still unanswered.

“The concern is that we have a contingent liability,” Town Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week. “Of course, we’ve seen the crumbling of the cement down at the footings, which makes it look wobbly.”

“By my making the town aware of safety conditions up there,” Koenig said, “you would think that puts the town on notice for liability.”

Koenig’s home on Pond Hill Road is not the only one in danger, she said. “It’s just that I’m the one choosing to bring the issue to light; technically, there are three other houses that are in the collapse zone of the tower.”

The town board requested that an engineering inspection be completed last December, and that any findings be reported to the town. “So far, we haven’t gotten that information,” Hallenbeck said. “They dealt with someone at American Tower; they’re the people who set up the engineers to look at it. We know they’ve been doing some work over there, so we think that they took a look at it and found something wrong,” she said.

Paul Roberts, vice president of compliance at American Tower, said that the work was completed in the spring, and that American Tower had coordinated with Rensselaerville’s building inspector throughout the entire process. “The building inspector has the drawings, the photographs, and all the data that describes the work that was done,” Roberts said. “All of that occurred back in the April-May time frame.”

Furthermore, he said, there was no structural problem in the first place. “I talked with our director of engineering, who pulled out the drawings and showed me the work that was done there,” said Roberts.

When the tower was built, it was bolted into the ground in four locations at its base, after which workers poured what are called concrete caps on top of each footing, said Roberts. The caps, he said, “have nothing to do with anything structural. It’s all just covering the base of the tower mounting area.”

Last year, the cold weather left those caps deeply fractured. “They’d cracked pretty severely,” Roberts said, “but at no time did they have anything to do with the structural loading.”

The changes, Nickelsberg said, have been purely cosmetic. “There’s been a new a paint job, the addition of new cement to one of the footings, and new barbed-wire fencing,” he said. “So we want to know, does that mean this thing is ready to stand without falling?”

“The company has actually gone out and replaced all of those caps,” Roberts said. “Realistically, there never was a structural problem. So, you might just say that they were indeed cosmetic changes.”

Koenig recalls the partial collapse of the Dunn Memorial Bridge in Albany in 2005. “That bridge was not as old as [the cell tower],” she said. “You have bridges going down that are in the tower’s age range.” She has been trying to get the tower looked at for several years, she said, “and now that I finally have people’s attention, I’m trying to make sure that I don’t lose it.”

Nickelsberg said Monday that the town would be conducting its own engineering inspection on Wednesday.

Roberts said that, as far as he can tell, everything worked out like it was supposed to. “If somebody goes out there now,” he concluded, “everything should look pristine.”

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